History of Disc Sports in Canada

 

Tin-Lid, Frisbee and Flying Discs

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Frisbee, designed from tin pie lids and eventually named after a pie bakery hit the market as a new fun plastic flying toy in cities and towns across the U.S. and Canada. A few pioneers developed the skills and presented early competitions that were the beginning of today’s modern disc sports.

Canada’s Frisbee and Disc Sports History

The world’s first flying disc sport, as we know disc sports today, was disc golf, first invented in Canada in the early 1900s. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan in 1926. Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4 foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis. However, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game came to an end. We don’t have the historical connecting dots from 1926 Tin Lid Golf to the beginning of modern disc sports, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t there. For all we know, someone from Bladworth Tin lid Golf may have moved to the East Coast of the U.S. for whatever reason and started the pie tin tossing at Yale and other universities, we just don’t know. Frisbee and modern disc sports competitions began in the early 1970s in Canada and the US. Many innovations in competitions and tournament formats were being discovered and established in both countries at the same time. Because of Canada’s early introduction and interest in disc sports, Canada has shown that despite population differences, Canadians have always been competitive at the highest level in world disc sports.

In 1970, Frisbee and disc sports pioneers Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield moved from Michigan to Canada, becoming Toronto residents. They would use Queens Park in downtown Toronto, as their playing headquarters for developing their Frisbee play. Activities included disc golf and freestyle. From that moment, Westerfield and Kenner began introducing competition events, demonstrations and introductory programs at the very beginning of modern disc sports.

1975-canadian-open-frisbee-championships

Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, 1975.

In 1971, spending the summer traveling across Canada, performing improv Frisbee street shows, they caught the attention of Irwin Toy and were hired to perform as Frisbee Professionals promoting the Frisbee and disc sports across Canada. Also, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner teamed up with Humber College professor, Andrew Davidson, early Canadian disc sports promoter and Jeff Otis, event coordinator for the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), to produce the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships at the Canadian National Exhibition. The event began in 1972 with Guts and Distance and in 1974 added Freestyle and Accuracy. In 1975, Ken and Jim moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships from the CNE to the Toronto Islands, where disc golf, ultimate and the individual field events were added to the original events. Westerfield and Kenner spent several years touring Canada as Frisbee pros for Irwin Toy. Each summer their tour would end in Vancouver. In 1974 they decided to add another tournament to their Canadian Frisbee promotions. The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships on Kitsilano Beach and in Stanley Park ran for several years and was the beginning of disc sports on the West Coast.

Earliest Disc Sports Competitions in Canada and the U.S.

The IFT guts Frisbee competitions in Northern Michigan, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, ON (1972), the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC (1974), the Octad, New Brunswick, NJ (1974), the American Flying Disc Open (AFDO), Rochester, NY (1974) and the WFC, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA (1974), were the earliest Frisbee competitions to introduce the Frisbee as a new disc sport, up until these tournaments, the Frisbee was used as recreation and generally considered to be a toy.

First Disc Golf  Competitions – Toronto and Vancouver

Beginning in 1970, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, years before the idea of disc golf courses and the forming of the DGA or the PDGA, played Frisbee golf daily on an 18 object hole course they designed in Queens Park. This course was one of three courses that are considered to be the world’s first object disc golf courses. The other two courses were Rochester, NY (Jim Palmeri) and Berkeley, CA (Berkeley Frisbee Group).

queens park

First object disc golf course, Queens Park, Toronto, 1970.

In 1973, Canadian Gail McColl (Disc Golf and Freestyle Hall of Fame inductee, co-founder of Discraft) became a regular player at the park.

Westerfield and Kenner added disc golf to their other tournament events at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and their Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (NAS sanctioned event) in Stanley Park. Vancouver, BC. Kenner and Westerfield ran the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships annually from 1974 through 1977. Jim Brown of Vancouver took over tournament responsibilities in 1978.

These were the first disc golf tournaments in Canada, beginning as object courses, then later on Toronto Islands, the Canadian Open used permanently placed disc pole holes. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Westerfield produced many Irwin sponsored disc golf tournaments on the Toronto Island disc pole hole course, including the Toronto Island Open (1984 – present) and the Disc Golf Challenge. In 1987, Ken Westerfield as tournament director with sponsor Irwin Toy and Bob Blakely (Canadian Frisbee Director), produced the PDGA World Championships on Toronto Islands. This was the first and only time this championship has been held outside of the United States.

The Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Ken Westerfield:

“Ken Westerfield is an icon of disc golf and one of the strongest overall competitors in flying disc sports of all time. His powerful and accurate sidearm throw is widely acknowledged as one of the best the sport has ever seen. He was one of the top players at the emergence of organized disc golf competition. He pioneered the growth of disc golf across Canada. Many Canadian players trace their introduction to disc golf to being mentored by Ken. His contributions are a huge part of the foundation of our sport”.

The Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Discraft founder Jim Kenner:

“A modest pioneer in a sometimes flamboyant industry, Jim Kenner has proven himself to be a brilliant innovator in the pursuit of flying disc excellence. Experimenting with both new shapes and materials, Kenner’s development of a unique line of flying discs has been punctuated with the introduction of disc designs so radical and inventive that they mark a turning point in the nature of the game. Though he could easily rest on his laurels as a pivotal developer of disc technology, Jim Kenner continues to contribute to the growth of disc golf as a consistent supporter and sponsor of events and players”.

See more on disc golf in Canada and the U.S…

Ultimate Canada

Ultimate made its first international appearance at the 1975 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto. This was the beginning of introducing ultimate Frisbee to Canadians in the way of demonstrations added to the other tournament events.

Canadian Open tournament co-director Ken Westerfield would organize and play in these early demonstrations with some of the ultimate founders (Johnny Appleseeds) from CHS, Maplewood, New Jersey and other disc athletes that were there to compete in the other events at the Canadian Open. In the mid-1970s, Westerfield also played touring team league ultimate in Northern California (NCUFL). Ken, retiring from competing in U.S. ultimate, freestyle, disc golf and over-all NAS competitions, continued to organize and produce local disc events in Toronto. Because of his love of ultimate, began organizing ultimate Frisbee events in Toronto. In 1979, Westerfield with the help of Irwin Toy’s Bob Blakely and Chris Lowcock created the Toronto Ultimate Club. Westerfield started weekly ultimate pick-up games on Kew Beach with beach freestylers Patrick Chartrand, Stuart Godfrey and Jim Lim, then using his tournament registration contact list, Ken sent team participation invitations to Wards Island, West Toronto, North Toronto and his own team Beaches. These were the first four teams with each team taking turns hosting Wednesdays weekly league game nights at their home locations. The league starting night was at Kew Beach. Westerfield, using Bob Blakely’s office copy machine and mailing facility at Irwin Toy, would produce a weekly newsletter highlighting the games and scores for each team as well as their league standings through the playing season. The Toronto Ultimate League developed and was renamed the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), that now has 3300 active members and over 250 teams playing the year-round. This was the first ultimate league in Canada and now one of the world’s oldest. Ken Westerfield and Chris Lowcock were inducted into the inaugural class of both the 2010 Toronto Ultimate Club Hall of Fame and the national  Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.

See more on ultimate in Canada…

Freestyle Competitions – Toronto and Vancouver 1974

Freestyle is an event where teams of two or three players perform a routine that consists of a series of creative throwing and catching techniques set to music. The routine is judged on the basis of difficulty, execution and presentation. The team with the best total score is declared the winner. Freestyle in the beginning, before the invention of the nail-delay, catching possibilities would depend on the throw you were given, it was always spontaneous and unpredictable. Play of this type of freestyle was performed with two players standing 30-40 yards apart, the throws were fast and varied and the catches were right off the throw, except for the occasional kick or slap-up and rarely a pause between the catch and the throw. At advanced levels, the throws and catches would become a flow that was created once you had mastered the basics.

In 1973, Westerfield and Kenner, wanting to see if there were other Frisbee freestylers, had decided to add their idea of a Frisbee Freestyle competition to the 2nd Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, but due to a lack of competitors, the freestyle event was canceled. Unknown to Westerfield and Kenner at the time, there had been the beginning of a growing Frisbee freestyle interest in the United States centered in Berkeley, New York, Ann Arbor, New Jersey and Chicago. In 1974, at the 3rd annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Westerfield and Kenner introduced the first freestyle competitive event called Freestyle which was attended by players from each of the above-mentioned areas and they won it.

The Decade Awards 1970-75 Top Freestyle Routine: Ken Westerfield/Jim Kenner Canadian Open 1974:

“Considered the greatest speed-flow game of all time. Ken and Jim put on a clinic to cap off a blistering hot final by all of the teams. They featured a rhythmic and dynamic style with concise catch and throw combinations. These two gentlemen are credited with creating formal disc freestyle competition. The 1973 Canadian Open did not have freestyle as an event, the end result made history”.

Later that same year, in 1974, Kenner and Westerfield organized the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974-1977) at Kitsilano Beach. Along with other Frisbee events, they included their second big freestyle competition where Bill King, Jim Brown and John Anthony made their first competitive appearance. The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships (1972) and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974), was the beginning of freestyle and introducing all the disc sports in Canada.

Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships 1974.

Vancouvers first disc sport tournament, 1974.

Westerfield and Kenner were inducted into the inaugural Pioneer Class of the Freestyle Players Association Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame.

See more on freestyle in Canada and the U.S…

Frisbee Becomes a Sport

In 1974, Westerfield and Kenner approached Molson Breweries with the idea of performing Frisbee shows at basketball halftimes in Canadian universities as the Molson Frisbee Team. Always looking for unique ways to get into the university market, they accepted their proposal and were more than impressed with the results. The next year, Molson’s used their show exclusively to introduce a new brand of beer called Molson Diamond. In 1975, with Molson’s sponsorship, Westerfield and Kenner moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, from the Canadian National Exhibition to the Toronto Islands. Molson’s would continue to sponsor their Frisbee shows and events for several years. Along with promoting Molson products, this would help Westerfield and Kenner to promote their new disc sports everywhere

In 1975, Ed Headrick asked Dan Roddick to head up the IFA at Wham-O. Ed also asked Ken Westerfield to head the Canadian Frisbee Association for Canada, Ken turned down the job and felt that his efforts would be better served outside an office. Irwin Toy in Toronto did establish the Canadian Frisbee Association. In the years that followed, the Canadian Frisbee Association would have several directors. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely would become head of Irwin’s Frisbee sales promotions department and director of the CFA. Bob Blakely was Candian Frisbee Association’s first player/director and already involved in disc sports. Bob successfully organized show tours, appropriated funds and support for tournaments and teams, He also promoted and coordinated the Jr Frisbee Program across Canada.  Blakely and Westerfield were good friends and became a perfect team for promoting Frisbee and disc sports across Canada.

After 1977, interest in Frisbee and disc sports gained popularity across Mary and Ken Good TimesCanada and the United States. Jim Kenner and Gail McColl moved to London, Ontario and founded their disc manufacturing company called Discraft. Ken Westerfield and Mary Kathron dividing their time between Toronto and Santa Cruz, California began a professional Frisbee show called Good Times Professional Frisbee Show, performing in Canada and the United States at universities and sporting events. Also, there were several sponsored Frisbee touring shows coordinated by Bob Blakely as the CFA Director at Irwin Toy with Orange Crush, Air Canada, Lee Jeans and Labatt’s Breweries. Orange Crush even provided logo painted vans and motorhomes with several touring Frisbee teams to do shows at fairs, sporting events, shopping malls and schools across Canada. Bob Blakely, Ken Westerfield, Mary Kathron, Ron Leithwood, Mike Sullivan, Brian McElwain, Kevin Sparkman, Stuart Godfrey, Pat Chartrand, Peter Turcaj, Gary Auerbach, Jim Brown, Bill King and John Anthony were the touring freestyle performers in the series and became the foundation upon which disc sports grew in Canada.

On the West Coast in 1985, Jim Brown of Vancouver founded the Westwind Disc Society, which morphed first into the Vancouver Disc Sports Society and later the BC Disc Sports Society. This was the first provincially-recognized disc sports organization.

See more on disc sports in Vancouver…

Jean Luc Forest and Mike Jones were the co-founders of Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports. MODS became the first Canadian Ultimate Organization to incorporate in Feb of 1988. MODS was also the first to achieve Provincials Sports Organization status.

See more on disc sports in Manitoba…

Frisbee and Disc Sports Timeline for Canada.

1926 – Disc golf, invented in Canada. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, using tin lids.
1970 – Queen’s Park, Toronto, first designed object disc golf course and freestyle play. (the beginning of modern disc golf and freestyle)
1972 – 1976 – Westerfield and Kenner meet with Ed Hurst of Irwin Toy with their idea of promoting the Frisbee with demonstrations at special events and running a Jr Frisbee Program across Canada.
1972 – 1985 – The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, the introduction of modern disc sports. Sponsors include Molson’s, Orange Crush and Irwin.
1974 – 1977 – Molson’s begins promoting disc sports events and Frisbee shows with Kenner and Westerfield as the Molson Frisbee Team.
1974 – 1977 – The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships. Western Canada’s first Frisbee competitions and the introduction of modern disc sports.
1974 – The first freestyle competitions at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships.
1975 – Irwin Toy creates the Canadian Frisbee Association to promote Frisbee sales. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely becomes the first player to head the CFA.
1975 – The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships introduces ultimate.
1975 – 1978 – World Class Frisbee signature disc for Canada.
1976 – 1977 – First disc golf tournaments in Canada – Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto Island and The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Stanley Park, Vancouver.
1979 – Discraft begins manufacturing disc in London, Ontario.
1979 – The Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC)
1980 – First disc golf pole hole courses are designed and installed. Played as an object course since 1975, 18 pole holes were installed on Wards Island, Toronto, ON and later 9 holes on Pender Island, BC. In 1976, Winskill Park, Tsawwassen, BC, installed a 9 hole disc golf course. The pole hole baskets were homemade by locals. In the 1990s they were replaced with official Mach II pole holes.
1985 – Disc Involvement Society of Canada (DISCANADA) that included a publication.
1985 – World Labatt’s Guts Championships, Toronto, Ontario.
1985 – Westwind Disc Society – the Vancouver Disc Sports Society
1986 – Ottawa and Vancouver ultimate leagues begin.
1987 – Winnipeg Ultimate League
1987 – World Disc Golf Championships (PDGA), Toronto, Ontario.
1987 – Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC), Ottawa, Ontario.
1988 – Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports,(MODS). First Provincial Sports Organization founded.
1991 – WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships in Toronto.
1993 – Canadian Ultimate Players Association begins.

Players organizations and media resourcesUSA Ultimate | Ultimate Canada | Ultiworld | PDGA | WFDF | Freestyle Players Association | Ultimate Rob | FrisbeeGuru

Resources:
Directory of  Ultimate Frisbee Clubs across Canada.
Disc Golf Course Directory in Canada and the World.

Next Articles:

History of Ultimate Frisbee
Ultimate Frisbee History in Canada
Disc Golf History in the U.S. and Canada
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
Home Page: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports

Note: This information was referenced and time-lined from disc sport historical and biographical articles including U.S. and Canadian Disc Sports Hall of Fame inductions, Disc Sports Player Federations and other historical resources. This article was researched, written and compiled by Frisbee and disc sports historians. The history in this document may change as events and people are added. Linking or reproducing in whole or part is permitted. For more information contact: ifafw@hotmail.com

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